A Tale of Two Globes

Did you know that there are two unique globes in Watertown’s past? The Watertown Free Public Library holds sketches and a patent for one, whose creator is profiled below; the other resides at Perkins, where its 13-foot circumference continues to attract students and visitors alike. Behind each globe lies a tale of a local innovator working against the odds for the sake of education. Read on to learn the library’s side of the story; for the Perkins side, visit their Archives Blog.

Ellen Eliza Fitz was born in 1835. Her father, Asa Fitz, published hymnals and educational materials. Ellen followed his footsteps into education, graduating from the State Normal School in Newton, then becoming a governess in Canada. In 1875, while working in St. John, New Brunswick, Ellen became the first woman to patent a globe. A copy of her patent, with its bright red seal of the U.S. Patent Office, is in the WFPL’s Local History Collection:

Photograph of Ellen Eliza Fitz's globe patent from 1875, with bright red seal.
A copy of the patent, from the WFPL’s Local History Collection.

Fitz’s innovative globe mounting system uses two vertical rings to show the sun’s course and its effect on changing daylight and nighttime hours. With it, she imagined that classroom teachers could show students the effect of the Earth’s rotation and movement through the solar system on their day-to-day experience of the world.

Hand-drawn sketch of Ellen Eliza Fitz' globe.
This sketch of the globe’s design is in the library’s Local History Collection.
Photograph of Ellen Eliza Fitz's patented globe mount with two vertical rings.
The globe shown in the photograph is at the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center; another Fitz globe is at the National Museum of American History.

We don’t know much about Ellen’s later life. She lived in Somerville for a while, but she died in Watertown (where her brother had settled, and become a prominent citizen) in 1886. We do know that she continued her intellectual pursuits, because the library has a letter she received in 1885 from the famous astronomer Maria Mitchell. “I rejoice to know that you are studying so persistently,” Mitchell wrote. “It is a good indication of the healthy movement of the age, when women give themselves to such solid work.”

Interested in learning more about how Perkins history parallels and intersects with that of other Watertown institutions? Be sure to visit the library on Tuesday, October 23 at 7 p.m. for Cultivars and Cottages: The History of Perkins in Watertown, an illustrated talk by Perkins Research Librarian Jennifer Arnott.

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